50 years of the Rudolf Schülke Foundation: Hygiene must remain committed to global health protection

20. Mai 2022

The Rudolf Schülke Foundation celebrated its 50th anniversary at a ceremony in Hamburg.

The Rudolf Schülke Foundation celebrated its 50th anniversary at a ceremony in Hamburg. The goal of this Foundation, the promotion of prevention and control of communicable diseases through versatile, innovative, applied research approaches in hygiene and microbiology, has lost none of its importance. The chairman, Prof. Dr. med. Martin Exner, University Hospital Bonn, also emphasised the obligation to do justice to the health protection of all the people of this world while considering the diverse challenges of our time. During the ceremony, the Foundation's two highly prestigious awards, the Hygiene Award for outstanding publications in the fields of hygiene, microbiology, public or global health, and the Hygieia Medal for lifetime achievement in the service of hygiene and public health, were also ceremonially presented. The Hygiene Prize was awarded to Prof. Ewa Stürmer and her team for their publication on the comparative evaluation of antiseptic agents using a newly developed realistic wound biofilm model, and the Hygieia Medal was awarded to Prof. Thomas Mertens, Chairman of the Permanent Vaccination Commission at the Robert Koch Institute.

From left to right: Martin Exner (Chairman of the Board), Susanne Reimann (moderator), Dr. Uwe Berlekamp (Executive Board), Thomas Mertens (Hygieia Medal laureate), Ewa Klara Stürmer (Hygiene Prize laureate), Hans-Christian Nehlsen (Managing Director Schülke & Mayr), Lars Lemke (Executive Board) Photo credit: © Rudolf Schülke Foundation, photographer: Krafft Angerer, Hamburg.
From left to right: Martin Exner (Chairman of the Board), Susanne Reimann (moderator), Dr. Uwe Berlekamp (Executive Board), Thomas Mertens (Hygieia Medal laureate), Ewa Klara Stürmer (Hygiene Prize laureate), Hans-Christian Nehlsen (Managing Director Schülke & Mayr), Lars Lemke (Executive Board)
Photo credit: © Rudolf Schülke Foundation, photographer: Krafft Angerer, Hamburg.

Retrospect and outlook

The Foundation was established on 18 October 1972 on the initiative of the then managing director of Schülke & Mayr GmbH, Dr. Martin Deutsch. Its mission is to promote hygiene and microbiology for the prevention and control of communicable diseases. The founding chairman, Prof. Habs, formulated in a groundbreaking way that hygiene should be understood in this context as an applied science, which presupposes versatile, initially purposeless research, but is committed to a specific goal, namely that of "people’s health", i.e. public health. The current chairman of the Foundation, the renowned hygienist Prof. em. Dr. med. Martin Exner, University Hospital Bonn, led the almost 60 invited guests in Hamburg through the history of the Foundation in a vividly designed lecture and presented past and current challenges of its work. In 1996 and 2007, for example, the Rudolf Schülke Foundation had anticipated and outlined the risks posed by new and emerging infectious agents and proposed strategies for risk assessment and management with the publication of the " Memorandum on the threat of infectious diseases". Over the 50 years, the Foundation's tasks have expanded significantly with its original focus on disinfection. The detection of less frequently discussed problems, patient safety and global health in prevention and control strategies are purposefully brought more into focus. Interdisciplinary international research, cooperation between universities and the promotion of young scientists are fundamental to this. In addition to announcing the Hygiene Prize and awarding the Hygieia Medal, the Foundation also does justice to this goal with its professionally demanding working discussions, which are prepared for publication. According to Exner, future hygiene must remain committed to global health protection. The Rudolf Schülke Foundation will continue to provide impulses and motivate young scientists to conduct research.

Following this engaging and hopeful outlook, Prof. Dr. med. Philipp Osten took the guests into the history of how humanity coped with major pandemics such as the plague, cholera and Spanish flu. The history helps to better understand the measures that were and are being taken in the current pandemic. Prof. Osten is head of the Institute for the History and Ethics of Medicine at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf and director of the Medical History Museum Hamburg, where the exhibition "Pandemic. Looking Back to the Present" is running until August. With the help of many illustrations and pictures from the past, one actually recognised a great deal from the present; even vaccination scepticism is by no means a new phenomenon. Positive novelties in the history of pandemics are the rapid identification of the pathogen, the speed and reliability of the detection method using PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2 as well as the rapid availability of an effective and safe vaccine.

Hygiene Prize and Hygieia Medal

The Hygiene Prize and the Hygieia Medal of the Rudolf Schülke Foundation are awarded every two years. This year, the working group of Prof. Dr. med. Ewa Stürmer, Hamburg, was awarded for their work "Comparative analysis of biofilm models to determine the efficacy of antimicrobials", published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health [1]. The prize of 15,000 € is awarded to promote young scientists who achieve special solutions to problems in the fields of hygiene, microbiology, preventive medicine and public and global health. In Prof. Stürmer's excellent lecture entitled "Pitfalls in antimicrobial efficacy profiles" it became immediately clear why this work is worthy of the award. With the development of a biofilm model based on sheep's blood, a widely applicable test option for antimicrobial substances and wound dressings is now available. Clinically relevant is the result of the comparative evaluation of two wound irrigation solutions using the model, in which Octenisept® had the greatest potential against planktonic as well as biofilm bacteria, while hypochlorous wound irrigation solutions proved ineffective in the biofilm model. In this respect, the work fitted well into the framework topic of this year's working meeting, which was dedicated to the possibilities of clinical antiseptics.

Prof. Dr. med. Thomas Mertens was honored with the Hygieia Medal. He is the 26th recipient of this award. According to the laudator Prof. Exner, he has been a rock in the vaccination discussion. He had not been concerned with expressing personal opinions but had taken the arduous path of making recommendations and justifying them scientifically after a critical consensus process. Therefore, the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board of the Rudolf Schülke Foundation particularly appreciated the steadfastness and insistence with which Mertens insisted on the necessity of scientific evidence in weighing the risks for the individual as well as for the population. His recommendations and his personal presentation in communication have contributed significantly to increasing confidence in the decision to prevent infection through vaccination.

In his words of thanks, Prof. Mertens expressed the wish that a broader understanding would also prevail in politics that scientific thinking depends on the state of knowledge, which is always changing with the appearance of new publications, which also changes the evidence base of measures. He also called for more tolerance and openness towards the statements of others: the threshold to aggressiveness is crossed more and more quickly and the recipients in the communication process are often not prepared to allow other opinions. One must be prepared to hear the message of others as well, Mertens said.

Honoring and farewell of deserving members of the Foundation

The formal part of the ceremony ended with the farewell and honoring of two long-standing members of the Advisory Board and the Board of Directors of the Foundation. Prof. Dr. med. Matthias Trautmann, Stuttgart, and Prof. Dr. Peter Heeg, Tübingen, both recipients of the Hygiene Prize themselves, had made valuable contributions to the evaluation of scientific publications for the Hygiene Prize as well as in the form of lectures and discussion contributions during the working meetings for over 20 years. They are now succeeded by Prof. Dr. med. Iris Chaberny, University Hospital Leipzig, and Prof. Dr. med. Alex Friedrich, University Hospital Münster.

The Future

In this anniversary celebration, which also included a politically pointed and entertaining perspective in the form of an appearance by the distinguished columnist Jan Fleischhauer, the Rudolf Schülke Foundation once again demonstrated its high status in promoting and motivating independent research in the field of hygiene. Also of inestimable value are and were the informal conversations of the guests during the breaks of the working meeting, at the celebratory champagne reception and during the dinner.

For the future, Prof. Exner summed up, it will be a matter of paying much more attention in the development of hygiene strategies to ensuring that resources are conserved, that they are climate-friendly and that they can also be implemented in poorer countries and during times of crisis, be it due to environmental disasters or wars.

Photo: credit:
© RUDOLF SCHÜLKE FOUNDATION, photographer: Krafft Angerer, Hamburg


  1. Stürmer EK, Besser M, Brill F, Geffken M, Plattfaut I, Severing AL, Wiencke V, Rembe JD, Naumova EA, Kampe A, Debus S, Smeets R. Comparative analysis of biofilm models to determine the efficacy of antimicrobials. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2021 May;234:113744. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2021.113744. Epub 2021 Mar 26. PMID: 33780904.

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